My favorite Mendocino County beer is Boont Amber from Anderson Valley Brewing Company. They advertise as a “solar powered brewery” that currently generates 40 percent of its electricity from the sun, and recently announced plans to expand to 100 percent. The woman who runs the taproom said the contracts had been signed, staff had been informed of the new build, and the system would include battery storage.
Your current solar system is likely to be grid tied so excess production can be bought back to PG&E and electricity purchased when needed. In the past few decades, such grid measurement has accelerated the installation of solar systems by using the grid to cope with the interruption of renewable energy. About 20 percent of the electricity produced in California is currently generated by wind or sun. This percentage is increasing rapidly as costs decrease due to increased hardware and mass production efficiency. In the past ten years, solar prices have fallen by 90 percent and wind by 70 percent. Each was now producing electricity at $ 40 / MWh, making it the most affordable source for new generations.
As the production of renewable energies increases, the discrepancy between when electricity is generated and when electricity is required leads to a boom in grid-scale storage of energy, currently mainly in batteries. There are three scales of mismatch: daily, seasonal, and year-to-year. Batteries are ideal for the daily day / night cycle and enable a quick changeover from charge to discharge with relatively low energy costs for replacement. Battery costs have fallen faster than solar costs, and larger battery storage systems are being built every month that threaten to economically replace natural gas peaker systems for short-term load changes. However, the seasonal mismatch between winter and summer and the changes from year to year cannot be handled with batteries. This requires storing energy in a fundamentally different form and the best candidate right now is hydrogen.
All combustion fuels, including carbohydrates in human and animal bodies, firewood, coal, oil, and natural gas, have energy stored as hydrogen in chemical compounds. The oxidation of hydrogen releases the stored energy in forms that can be used by living and social systems. The oxidation of pure hydrogen only releases energy and water. If you oxidize something else, it creates additional residue of carbon compounds, which is why fossil fuel burning is a climate issue. Because hydrogen is so reactive, there is no free hydrogen and it has to be removed from a compound and stored.
95 percent of the hydrogen produced today is generated from fossil fuels, which still creates problematic carbon residues. Hydrogen can be removed from the water with electricity. If the electricity comes from renewable sources, it's called green hydrogen because it doesn't leave any carbon residue. The hydrogen must be compressed or cooled for efficient long-term storage. All of these steps require equipment and energy, reducing the overall efficiency of the stored energy.
When humanity begins to grapple with the reality of climate change, the production and storage of green hydrogen will be the next “new thing”. Trillions have already been tied up in Europe, Japan, and Australia, dramatically reducing the cost of this hardware. As with all renewable systems, the hardware is a scalable fixed price and the energy is free
Now imagine if the Anderson Valley Brewing Company wanted to become completely energetic. The solar system and the battery storage must be large enough to cover the electricity demand in winter so that the summer surplus can be converted into hydrogen. This could be used for all space heating needs all year round as normal combustion devices can be converted to hydrogen. It would also cover the entire heating needs of brewing production. The electricity demand beyond the array and battery system could be generated with a fuel cell or a hydrogen-powered gas turbine, or the brewery could remain connected to the electricity grid.
Mercedes, Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota, and Nikola are all working to make cars and trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells. UPS and FedEx expect a switch to hydrogen. The state of California subsidizes hydrogen filling stations. Electric charging and hydrogen refueling in the brewery would be an economic advantage not only for the brewery, but for the entire Anderson Valley. Hydrogen production could use cheaper off-peak electricity, which helps the overall economy of the network.
What a wonderful world it could be!
Crispin B. Hollinshead lives in Ukiah. This and previous articles can be found at cbhollinshead.blogspot.com.